Remembering the first Indian author who won America’s top children’s literature prize: Scroll

(This column first appeared in Scroll as part of their The Trailblazers series)

  • In 1928, Dhan Gopal Mukerji won the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal for his children’s book Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. The book’s protagonist is the eponymous Gay Neck, who, along with its companion Hira, serves as a messenger pigeon during World War I. Through the pigeon’s trials and adventures, Mukerji obliquely speaks to the ties between man and animal, the futility of war and its lasting impact.Mukerji was the first writer of colour to have won the Newbery Medal, but it is likely that he did not get to savour the success. He had an agreement with his publisher, EP Dutton, since 1922 to write a work of nonfiction and fiction every year – a considerable output for anyone to achieve. In all, Mukerji wrote over 25 books, including plays, two books of verse and works in translation. His oeuvre ranged from children’s literature set in the jungles of East India to nonfictional accounts in which he sought to explain a changing India to the West and himself. He was prolific, articulate and gifted with an astute turn of phrase. He was popular with readers, both young and old, and admired by peers and critics, making him the first of a stellar list of South Asian writers in English who found fame in the West…

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